Football and more importantly fans returned last week as the new season got off to a thrilling start. Our expert Gabriel Sutton is back once again to give his EFL weekend preview.
If you haven’t read his pre-season previews yet, you can do so here:
Millwall win to nil
Millwall v Blackburn Rovers
Millwall boss Gary Rowett was delighted with the way his side started in the 1-1 draw at QPR last time out.
They began with a high-intensity and went ahead through a fine strike from key man Jed Wallace, before being pegged back by a long-range strike to set up a dicier remainder of the contest.
The Lions cannot afford the personnel who will allow them to consistently control games for 90 minutes, so the task for them is to start games similarly to how they did at Loftus Road, perhaps be more clinical during their spells of dominance, then remain solid when absorbing pressure.
With Rowett at the helm, the South Londoners should be strong in that regard, especially having signed Daniel Ballard: the Arsenal loanee enjoyed an excellent debut.
Ballard, brilliant at the basics and deceptive at distribution, is guided by the experienced Shaun Hutchinson, who operates in the centre of the back-three and while Jake Cooper is still finding his way fitness wise, Murray Wallace is a dependable alternative.
In midfield, meanwhile, Millwall can turn to the tenacity of Maikel Kieftenbeld, the aerial prowess of George Saville, the solidity provided by George Evans or the exuberance of Billy Mitchell.
If Benik Afobe can rediscover patches of the form he showed at Wolves a few years ago, he could be a reliable focal point for the Lions, who are expected to be on the front foot in this game whilst maintaining a steady shape.
Blackburn, meanwhile, might have achieved an opening day 2-1 victory over Swansea, but their chances in that game came from them stealing the ball high up the pitch and attacking quickly through Ben Brereton, John Buckley and Tyhrys Dolan.
Rovers will get fewer opportunities to attack in that manner at the Den and could find chances hard to come by.
😏 Keif wants to see you at The Den on Saturday…
😉 Don't let him down!#Millwall
— Millwall FC (@MillwallFC) August 11, 2021
Double Chance: Draw/Luton
West Bromwich Albion v Luton
Luton boss Nathan Jones has high standards.
Even after a 3-0 victory over Peterborough on the opening day, the fiery Welshman still found fault with aspects of the performance which, in some respects, shows that he focuses on the input from his side and not just the output.
While the Hatters may be primarily a possession-based side, they showed in that game that they can create chances via other avenues. The Bedfordshire outfit were clever in their use of set pieces, as shown with the dinked cross for Elijah Adebayo’s headed opener, and ruthless in transition, with Fred Onyedinma making an intelligent interception before carving out a tap-in for Harry Cornick.
Onyedinma, therefore, deserved his goal too, finishing at the second attempt after a fine cross from James Bree, having joined from Wycombe in the summer.
In central defence, meanwhile, Gabriel Osho – stepping up after a loan spell at Rochdale last season with the likes of Sonny Bradley and Reece Burke absent – starred in his first league start alongside seasoned utility man Kal Naismith.
If Osho, Onyedinma and co. can maintain their performance levels against stronger opposition, they may still be able to do damage.
West Brom earnt a point on the opening night at Bournemouth in a 2-2 draw, which will prompt mixed feelings for new head coach Valérien Ismaël.
On the one hand, the Frenchman could be delighted with the coherence of his side’s press at such an early stage as well as the threat they carried from crosses and set pieces: no Championship side at the weekend mustered more headed efforts at goal than their eight.
Equally, they were short of a physical presence up top and thus, to an extent, relied on opposing teams not holding onto the ball after winning initial defensive duels, allowing Albion to pick up second balls.
If Luton can hold onto the ball for long enough to beat the press, which is something Jones will demand, they are capable of upsetting their hosts.
The reaction this guy is going to get tomorrow 😍
— Oh When The Town Podcast (@OhWhenTheTown) August 6, 2021
💙💛 Time for an extra special #ThrowbackThursday! With just two days to go until our first home league game at Plough Lane with fans in three decades, we rewind back to 1986 when Vinnie stunned United! https://t.co/M8zQR0UEt2 #AFCW pic.twitter.com/IwMaOHp68Z
— AFC Wimbledon (@AFCWimbledon) August 12, 2021
Wimbledon to win
AFC Wimbledon v Bolton Wanderers
The date is 4th May 1991. Wimbledon FC lost 3-0 at home to Crystal Palace in their final game at Plough Lane, before supporters swarmed onto the pitch to say goodbye to it.
Fans who attended that game have since gone 30-years without seeing a football match in Wimbledon, with WFC subsequently ground-sharing at Selhurst Park and AFC Wimbledon having to spend the first 18 years at Kingsmeadow, before briefly taking to the field at Loftus Road.
Technically speaking, the club returned to their sacred home, New Plough Lane, last season, but the spiritual restoration is not complete without supporters. After all, the club would not exist without the commitment of the masses to build a club that represents the people of Wimbledon, so the true homecoming takes place this Saturday.
Coincidentally, Bolton were also the opponents when AFC Wimbledon had their first ever home game in League One, five years and a day before this meeting.
The Trotters are aiming for back-to-back promotions but, although they have the depth for that achievement, the first XI looks short for the top six, even if Josh Sheehan fares as well as hoped in midfield and Ricardo Santos builds on the partnership he began to forge with George Johnston in the EFL Cup victory over Barnsley.
Nonetheless, the atmosphere at New Plough Lane on this unique occasion will be electric and may be an enormous factor in determining the trajectory of the match so, it can be assumed, AFC Wimbledon will be on the front foot here for long periods.
On top of the motive of winning their first game back at their spiritual home, the Dons also have the motive of starting the season with six points from their first two games.
Mark Robinson’s troops began the campaign with a 2-1 victory at Doncaster thanks to goals from Ayoub Assal and Luke McCormick.
Assal, who has excellent movement when playing off a main striker and McCormick, a sublime technician, provide along with another talent, Jack Rudoni, the touches of quality on top of an extremely hardworking unit.
Robinson has built a team that carries out the fundamentals for any Wimbledon side – graft, commitment and strength of character – but also plays good football on the deck under his guidance.
On a day that holds so much romanticism and sentimentality, there is also excitement about the future.
Double Chance: Draw/Fleetwood
Lincoln City v Fleetwood Town
Fleetwood lost their opening league game 1-0 to Portsmouth last weekend, but there were positives to take for Simon Grayson.
James Hill, surprisingly young at 19 for somebody playing in the centre of a back-three in a 3-4-3 formation, produced a performance of blood and guts, likewise at Stoke in the midweek EFL Cup defeat.
Shayden Morris, meanwhile, starred on the right of the front three with his direct running power and the 19-year-old could be a key outlet at Sincil Bank.
Grayson felt his side were dominant in the first half and if the Trawlermen can start this match just as brightly, they could catch Lincoln out.
The Imps have a crisis at centre-back, where they will be without Joe Walsh and Lewis Montsma while Adam Jackson is a doubt, so Michael Appleton must name a makeshift pairing.
Southampton loanee Dan Nlundulu, meanwhile, is still sidelined too, so it is likelier that Lincoln will grow into the season than start with gusto.
Fleetwood, therefore, will feel hopeful of at least collecting their first point of the campaign, if Callum Morton can find the goalscoring form he enjoyed at League Two level with Northampton in the second half of the 2019-20 campaign.
Shayden Morris is a big baller, fleetwoods got a gem 💎
— Bill Marsh (@billy96marsh) July 30, 2021
The Imps have a crisis at centre-back, where they will be without Joe Walsh and Lewis Montsma while Adam Jackson is a doubtGabriel Sutton
Rochdale to win
Rochdale v Scunthorpe United
New Rochdale boss Robbie Stockdale is left in no doubt how his side can improve, after a 3-2 loss at Harrogate last time out.
Dale were two behind within 10 minutes of kick-off, owing to a combination of over-aggressive defending from Jim McNulty and passive defending from Max Taylor, with the team suffering without a clear defensive screening presence.
Eoghan O’Connell, if fit, is expected to come into central defence for McNulty, which will improve not only the team’s defensive proficiency but also their ability to play out from the back, an area of their game that looked strong during an encouraging pre-season.
With O’Connell in the side, Rochdale will have the option to build play steadily through the thirds, or bypass the press by going direct to Jake Beesley, who won some 18 aerial duels last weekend: no League Two striker won more.
Beesley will be the focal point to Dale’s attacking play, but Stockdale has lots of options for the other positions: especially with the business the club has completed in the last fortnight.
George Broadbent, an all-action number eight with an excellent first touch, joins on loan from Sheffield United, withdrawn forward Danny Cashman arrives temporarily from Coventry with great reviews from Brighton
Rochdale already have Alex Newby bringing lots of quality in the wide right channel, after the former Chorley man produced a smart reverse finish to pull a goal back last week before some good play to set up Grant’s equalizer: the potential going forward is there.
It is possible, too, that any defensive imperfections may not be exposed by Scunthorpe who, even at this embryonic stage, have done nothing to defy their pre-season doubters.
Jake Beesley and Danny Cashman could very well be a solid big man-little man partnership for Rochdale, if Rochdale opt to play two up top.
— Cameron Cairns (@CameronCairns87) August 6, 2021
Shout to Kevin Ellison by the way.
Newport’s top scorer this season at 42 years old 😏#NCAFC
— Edward Walker (@edward_w97) August 7, 2021
Newport draw no bet
Mansfield Town v Newport County
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
2021/22 might be a new League Two season, but 42-year-old Kevin Ellison has scored in this division in each of the last 15 campaigns, after coming off the bench to bag the winner in the opening day 1-0 victory at Oldham.
Mansfield Town will be hoping 19th century French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr’s logic does not apply to them, because the Stags hold promotion ambitions despite having finished 21st and 16th in their previous two campaigns.
Last week’s 2-1 win over Bristol Rovers adds to the sense that the Stags can start living up to expectation under Nigel Clough, although they did not have to get out of second gear.
Whereas last season, the Nottinghamshire outfit’s main selling point was their midfield quartet of George Maris, Ollie Clarke, Stephen Quinn and George Lapslie, with the quartet undermined by deficiencies in other areas, the opening game suggested almost the opposite.
Nathan Bishop looked strong between the sticks, the back-four was solid while strikers Danny Johnson and Oli Hawkins scored on debut, but the team performance was not especially convincing.
Newport, meanwhile, relied on substitutions: Ellison scored the winner from Ryan Haynes excellent cross and, at the other end of the age spectrum, Timmy Abraham made an impact from the bench in his first EFL appearance.
The following Tuesday, Abraham – brother of Chelsea’s Tammy – flicked in an audacious finish to defeat Ipswich in the EFL Cup.
Newport should be a solid unit, too, with utility man Scot Bennett capable of plugging defensive gaps, Ed Upson controlling games understatedly and Mickey Demetriou looking a reliable presence on the right of the back-three.
With that in mind, County can be hopeful of increasing their tally to at least four points, which would boost their promotion hopes: after two unlucky Play-Off Final defeats in three seasons, Flynn hopes sustained high performance yields a change of fortune.